September 2009


That’s about all that can be said for the next week or so. I haven’t even been checking email. Even if you are in a similar state yourself, I would recommend you take a look at the world political stage right now regarding Iran. As of this posting, a good start would be an overview of Iran’s nuclear program and Friday’s NYT article, followed by this one. There’s a lot happening in the world, and it’s good to keep abreast of it, even during midterms.

Despite the tangle of international politics sugaring our exam season, all is not bleak in our flat, for tonight we will have a full Indian dinner and apple pie. With ice cream.

Midterms are coming up next week, so if I weren’t already living, breathing, and sleeping science, I am now. The central nervous system, visceral innervation, interventricular foramena, GusB, Caenorhabditis elegans, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry*, and complement pathways are staging an effective coup of my brain. Last night it came to a head with a detailed dream of taking out Chancellor Genji (my sixth class is classical Japanese literature) with an intricate interplay of Heian court politics and deployment of some sort of oversize flow cytometer, so it seemed time to capitulate and open the floodgates of my brain to science geekery. Given that I already think “hey! Drosophilla melanogaster, wild type +/0!” when I see a fruitfly in the kitchen, there wasn’t all that much left for science to take over. Humor seemed the only holdout.

No longer.

Moving backwards from Aaron Diaz tshirts emblazoned with “I roll with the ape” (these need to exist!) and Kate Beaton’s Tesla: the Celibate Scientist, we now have a (not so) classy range of (often pseudo) scientific jeers, jabs, and bon mots:

“You’re one neuron short of a synapse.”

“You need PCR to find your brain.”

“I’m gonna go *restriction enzyme* on yo @$$!”

“I:your mother::C3:PAMPs”

alternatively “your mother:me::C':IgM”

“His brain’s in his sacrum”

“hit below the T10″

“my affinity >> your avidity”

The MadScienceLibs rubric will follow. Tune in next week.

*MALDI-TOF: matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry. It’s really cool, actually. It involves mirrors and lasers and tiny clocks and is therefore an excellent toy, though perhaps not as inspired as plasmon resonance, but that’s only to be expected. :)

This weekend has been memorable. Allow me to demonstrate:

FRIDAY: After a 9am biochemistry class, I biked over to the hospital to get started on my thesis work. First came the 2 hour consultation with my PI about the underlying biochemistry, the proposal, methodology and security qualifications. After an unintended lunch break (my PI is adamant about 2 things: I must bike to work, and I must stop missing meals) came the most voodoo experience to date: the animal lab! It’s a clean facility, so you have to swipe into the vestibule with your SSN, carrying all your equipment in plastic baggies. Through a second set of doors is the equipment transfer room, where you spray your bags with this stuff that could kill Chlorox and put it through a double door to the lab interior. Then you head back out to the vestibule and over to the locker rooms, where you gown up: mask, hair net, gown, booties, gloves…the whole nine yards, also to be sprayed down with terminator spray. You can then head into the lab to go get your stuff, but your personal lab will be behind at least two more SSN doors, for which you must add a second layer of gloves and booties and terminator spray. Every time you go in and out that door, you have to add or subtract a booty layer. There’s no contamination from the supplies, either, since everything goes through the bedroom-sized autoclave. I kid you not – food, water, bedding, cages, and anything else a mouse might need – it all, gets sterilized. I just hope I never get locked in the autoclave room on accident.

We were there on business, with an entire rack of mice to genotype. In the process, I was bled on, shat on, pissed on, bit and scratched, and nevertheless came away with everything I needed and a wealth of advice from the superhumanly patient supervising tech (who is absolutely, unequivocally awesome). Then we did PCR! Whooooooooo! Hot dang, I love my job! Even when it means my day is 9am-7pm solid science and I smell like latex for the next two days.

Then we had Chinese and watched Memento until about 1 am. It was fabulous.

SATURDAY dawned early at 6:00, when I got up to prep for the International Crisis Aid 5k over at SLU. Six of us from WU formed a team, although at least 4 of us were under the weather: one suitemate is getting over swine flu and a sinus infection coupled with allergy testing, two of the other guys were at the tail-end of sick, and I had just given blood. Team of cripples that we were, we nevertheless piled into the car and headed off. The race was…confusing. SLU’s campus is pretty tiny, so in order to get 3.1 mi in, the route was pretty crazily complex. There were volunteers at every corner to direct you, though, so it all started off ok. However, someone had changed the route and not told all of the volunteers, so while the first about 50 people were shunted the right way, the next at least 100 of us got directed right instead of left and wound up doing at least a half mile extra and coming at the finish line from three different directions. It was all in good fun, though, and the complimentary bagels and massages afterward were entirely worth the ~4 mi run.

SUNDAY: tonight was chili night. With cornbread. Followed by monster cookies and rootbeer floats to Flight of the Conchords.

And my suitemate’s hipster moment. Heheheh. This is right up there with our budding Genji rap and vegan vapire epic.

Finally! I’ve been able to put my anatomy lectures to good practical use in figuring out how to map pain. The context was my giving blood today and getting the back of the vein savaged by an incompetent RN. When everything goes well during a donation, I merely feel tired, but when things go poorly, I always wind up with nausea and pain shooting up the bicep into the neck. It turns out that the path of the pain through the bicep and neck run right along the C5 dermatome (ie, the area innervated by the 5th cervical or neck nerve). What has that to do with nausea, you ask? Why, I asked the same, and remembered that adult nervous networks are the same as embryonic ones despite the migration of viscera. This means that the diaphragm is innervated by C3-C5. Moreover, the brain isn’t terribly adept at distinguishing visceral sensory input from dermatome input, so it’s little surprise that damage to one can result in pain from the other. I double checked my anatomy notes and a text or two, and this appears to be the case. Now we know, and knowing is half the battle!

Now the only question is whether I’ll be well enough to run that 5k on Saturday.

I feel I ought to apologize for not posting in so long, but this site has never really had an update schedule, and it really hasn’t been that long since the last post. It’s more a matter of my putting substantive thoughts to my roommates rather than to the internet. This hasn’t really been possible in the past, so I’m pretty excited about that. Also, I’ve been getting an education – Green Day, Bad Religion, and Quentin Tarantino have played large roles here. Of course, the 5 bio courses and single Japanese lit class have been edifying, as well, but academic structure lacks the novelty of a social life. There will always be PubMed and NYT ScienceTimes to keep a lab monkey up at night, but white cheddar popcorn and ogling Ubisoft makes for a welcome repertoire expansion.

One of my roomies has also set up a blog for the four of us, the Kitchen Table Society, as an outlet for our views on how to fix the world. This could get fun, especially since my contributions will likely oscillate between tirades against the drug industry and humorous vignettes – like my other roomie and me getting hit on by a car-full of drunk gay boys on our way home from a midnight showing of Pulp Fiction (always amusing). By the way, am I alone in thinking that Quentin Tarantino is the American version of Martin McDonagh? Perhaps we should explore this on KTS at some point. Tune in for the full rant!

To continue with the topic jumping, I’m debating putting up the occasional story/journal entry from my old log book. It was in one of my boxes, so when I was stocking my new flat’s bookshelves and ran across it I opened it to a random page and proceeded to crack up. Apparently my highschool self was an emo science nerd with a penchant for health policy reform and sarcastic fantasy novels. Now, the emo designation is the only real difference between that and my current persona, but it does add a deliciously amusing element to those old, inconsistent entries. Still, it appears the latest passworded posting freaked people out enough that none of the invitees have spoken to me since, so perhaps my sense of humor needs adjusting before any of this comes to light. We’ll see how things shape up. In the meantime, posts will continue to be erratic, but hopefully amusing (perhaps enjoyable, even). See you then!

new word for the day (courtesy of my roomie): Schnitzelbunk – Gr. “carpenter’s bench”

In addition to doing massive readings in immunology, CNS/PNS anatomy, and thesis prep, I have been trying to keep abreast of current events via the New York Times. There have been some pretty keen articles lately, including a report on hospitals during Katrina that raises some consuming questions about morality, a special on nanofibers in computer chip design, and this really nifty practical article from TiernyLab on how to survive a rip current. Apparently the researcher has completely upended the definition of a rip current with his studies; rather than a straight, fast undercurrent away from shore, rip currents are circular (he likens them to whirlpools). This suggests (and his findings corroborate it) that the old method of swimming parallel to shore until you exit the rip current gives you an even chance of swimming into a stronger part of the current than the one you start out in. However, if  you just tread water, he found that both he and his buoys had a 90% chance of being carried back to shore. Nifty, huh? That may very well save a few of our lives down the line, but I still have to take issue with his research approach. The buoys were a good idea, but testing this on himself has got to be at least somewhat ethically unsound. Or perhaps that only applies in a tetchy field like mine. At any rate, I’m excited about what this implies about the shape, movement, and propagation of waves.

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Since I’m all wired now (finally I have a roomie who will run with me) and the last posts have been overly dull, I thought I might post a few photos from the Japanese portion of my Men At Work gallery. I like watching how we make our world tick.

With that striking success at discussion (thusfar a tie with the 0 responses from the closed-door panel), I thought I’d try once more just to have something mildly more accessible than the tortuous and over-built Kojiki before I give up. Tonight’s readings came from a collection of poetry from first-millenium Japan called the Man’youshou. There are some gorgeous verses in there, and I’ll post one or two clips of the shorter ones to give you an idea. For the full effect of Yamanoue’s work you may have to take a trip to the library, but it is worth it.

From “Dialogue on Poverty” by Yamanoue:

But the night is cold. And he,
the man more destitute
than even I, on such a night
his father and mother
must be starving, bodies chill and numb;
his wife and children moaning softly in the dark;
Yes, you – at times like these
how do you manage to go on,
how do you get through your life?

Does it come to this -
is it such a helpless thing,
the path of man in this world?

Though we may think
our lives are mean and frustrate
in this world of men,
we cannot fly into the air,
it being so we are not birds.

By Lady Outomo no Sakanoue:

There are no mountains
and no seas to cut us off -
How then can it be
that even times to meet and talk
are so desperately few?

From Takahashi no Mushimaro:

To where eagles dwell
on the Mountain of Tsukuha,
up to the haven,
the haven of Mohaki,
Urging each other
with shouts, the youths and the maidens,
thronging together,
go to match songs in the song-match.
Since with others’ wives
I shall be keeping company,
so with my own wife let others banter as they will.
The gods that keep
this mountain from of old
have never interposed
their ban against these usages.
This one day alone,
sweetling, do not look at me,
do not question what I do.

Over Male God Peak
clouds boil up, hang in the air,
rain comes scudding down;
but though I end up sopping wet,
will I go home for that?

I was pleased to see a development of many of the elements I noticed in the Kojiki excerpts, including much more attention towards the individual and nature. Even the royal posts were seemingly justified by the relationship between the ruler and the land. If the Takahashi no Mushimaro poem is any indication, the pandoran curiosity of men is still prominent. However, I was interested to see that the following poem about the song-matches contains an injunction against Takahashi’s wife looking on his ceremonial transgressions. He seems to spend enough time excusing himself that you really have to wonder how guilty he feels and how far the meaning of “keeping company” stretches here. Still, the scrupulously accurate attention to personal details and relationships was exciting. Apart from sharing lady Outomo’s sentiments about time, my favorite verses were Yamanoue’s lament for his dead son and his “Dialogue on Poverty.” Perhaps this is simply my natural bent towards medical care and society overshadowing the other poems, but these two seem particularly perceptive. In the case of the latter, I was impressed by Yamanoue’s ability to write eloquently from another’s perspective; this does not seem to be much of a concern for the other authors.


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